Blog Essay Week 5

EJ Chapt. 3

This chapter discusses who journalists work for, which ties in quite nicely to our Media Ethics reading on loyalty. In this text, the authors make another definitive statement on loyalty: journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens. So, we now have our first loyalty to go along with our first obligation (the truth). My question is: which of these elements belongs at the top? Would there be any case in which a journalist would have to choose between the truth and the citizens?

The chapter gives considerable time to fleshing out the evolution of journalism from partisan press to public service and editorial independence to detached isolationism to a more community-minded media. As can be seen, these developments coincide with sociocultural changes throughout the years. This leads me to wonder if it’s really such a good idea to make such hard statements of principle like the one above, even if the opposite was the case a century or so ago.

Ever the sucker for a good analogy, I like Luce’s comparison of the separation the news and business sides of a media company to the separation of church and state. Of course, while the metaphor is good, the idea itself is shown to be fairly baseless today. Of course journalists have some stake in profitability: most of us aren’t doing this for free (or, at least, we don’t want to be for much longer). Acknowledging this would allow us to better prevent issues like the ones discussed in the chapter from occurring.

In the end, while I agree that journalism’s loyalty to the public should be paramount, after reading the Media Ethics chapter, I feel like this one fails to address the other loyalties that journalists must balance. I get that this is a book of basic journalistic principles, but sometimes it feels like the authors are putting these principles on a pedestal without acknowledging the grey areas that might surround them.

ME Chapt. 4

This chapter of Media Ethics states that most ethical decisions come down to the question of loyalty. In my experience, that sounds about right. Most ethical dilemmas I have seen or faced in journalism have involved balancing loyalties between sources and editors, among different publications, or even between oneself and one’s readers. Given the importance of loyalty to ethics, one would think the authors would have mentioned it earlier in the book, but as usual, I digress.

I like Royce’s “Hamlet option” statement about how choosing not to decide is not an option in dilemmas of loyalty. In the example of the PR professional having to choose between loyalty to an employer and loyalty to the truth, choosing neither would be self-serving. He or she is not only betraying both the employer and the cause of truth, but casting loyalty to his or her own self by making the “easy” choice of not choosing. As for Royce’s theory of loyalty as a whole, I agree with the criticism that he provides no means of balancing conflicting loyalties. His ideas make plenty of sense, but they don’t have much use if there is no clear way to apply them to reality.

With Fletcher’s identification of the two poles of loyalty—not betraying someone and completely throwing in with them—I see a tie-in, at least in basic concept, to the Golden Mean theory of earlier chapters in that, for any given question of loyalty, the best answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.

While the chapter discusses the idea of competing loyalties at length, it makes the relatively definitive statement that “virtually no situation in media ethics calls for inhumane treatment or withholding the truth.” This basically says that, if journalistic loyalties lie on a hierarchy, truth and humanity are at the top. Additionally, I would say journalists should rarely find themselves reneging on loyalty to objectivity.

The Potter Box is structurally quite similar to Bok’s model in that one begins by stepping back and examining a situation, assesses alternatives, and finally, makes a decision. The difference lies in the fact that, while Bok’s model seems to fall in line with a specific philosophy (the Categorical Imperative), The Potter Box is a more generalized decision-making system that weighs multiple philosophical views. It is comforting to me that, as the book states, the Potter Box allows you to sustain a variety of loyalties. While holding seemingly conflicting loyalties may create some cognitive difficulties, that situation still seems far better than having to completely abandon certain loyalties for the sake of others.

 

Case Studies:

4-A

I. The dilemma in this situation is whether Barrett Tryon should have removed his link and pull quote on Facebook. In accordance with the Potter Box, the facts of the case are these: Freedom Communications has a byline against posting negative statements about the company, which the post was construed as; the post did not show Tryon’s views, but merely quoted the news article; Tryon’s refusal to remove it resulted in admonishment by the company and administrative leave (with eventual reinstatement, though he resigned anyway); Tryon’s compliance would have necessitated him to censor himself.

W. The values in this case, from Tryon’s perspective, are his job, his freedom of speech, the truth, and his credibility. Utilitarianism would suggest that Tryon delete the post, as it allows him to keep his job and keeps the company happy. From the Golden Mean perspective, the mere post of a news story seems to be a reasonable compromise between outright criticism of the company and complete silence. The duties of veracity and justice in keeping the post might outweigh duty to beneficence and fidelity in deleting it. As for the third step of Bok’s model: keeping the might cause harm to the company and its members.

C. Tryon was right to keep the post and protest the company’s actions. His loyalty to truth and his value of free speech outweigh his obligation to the company. Even so, the company’s rule was, in itself, unethical, and his post did not appear constitute a violation of it anyway.

4-C

I. In a breaking news situation, should a reporter break news instantly via Twitter, or publish it later through his or her news organization? The facts are as such: reporters have an opportunity to personally tweet breaking news instantly; doing so would rob their publication of breaking the news, thus robbing the publication of potential business; a reporter could get fired for doing this; the brevity of tweets limits the amount of depth and context one can go into.

W. The values in this case are the journalist’s job, company loyalty, getting the story first, and publishing a complete story. Utilitarianism appears to favor waiting, as it benefits the publication without substantial loss to the reporter. Between the extremes instant tweeting and publishing in the future, the Golden Mean might suggest a middle ground of discussing the news with editors before tweeting about it. From a Kantian perspective, tweeting might harm the publication, but not doing so might harm a reporter’s reputation.

C. Given the situation, I would attempt to publish a comprehensive story of the breaking news via the publication I work for, rather than instantly tweet it, unless given clearance by the publication to do so. In doing this, I maintain loyalty to the publication and the truth without really doing damage to myself. I may not get the story first, but that is of relatively low personal value compared to the others.

4-D

I. The main dilemma in this case appears to be whether Jessica Luce should have dated someone she knew could become a source or could present a conflict of interest. The facts: Luce and Schenck appeared to be dating purely out of mutual attraction, rather than ulterior motive; Luce neglected to tell her editors about the relationship until it became an issue; Luce lives in a small community where everyone is a potential source; even though no conflict of interest appears to have come about, one very well could have, and readers could perceive it that way.

W. The values in play here are Luce’s relationship, her credibility, and her obligation to her publication. From a pure utilitarian perspective, Luce should not have engaged in the relationship as it benefits the most people, even if it’s at the expense of her own happiness. Kant would say otherwise: Luce’s own feelings should play into the equation as well. A pluralist approach might weigh the duty of self-improvement against that of justice.

C. Luce was right to maintain her relationship. As the facts show, it would be nearly impossible to have any real human relationship in such a small community if one neglected to have relationships with potential source. Furthermore, though it appeared to be a potential conflict of interest, none really existed. In this case, Luce’s loyalty to her own personal desires and sanity should triumph. It would, however, have behooved her to disclose her relationship to her editors earlier.

Discussion QuestionCould a situation arise where loyalty to citizens and obligation to truth come into conflict? If so, how should it be addressed?

 

Ethical Issue of the Week:

On Sunday, the New York Times took a look at one of Japan’s largest new broadcasters. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/world/asia/news-giant-in-japan-seen-as-being-compromised.html) The article characterizes the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) as the BBC of Japan. In spite of the network’s prestige, NHK has been racked by controversy recently, most notably regarding accusations that the network is essentially a government puppet. This seems to be an excellent example of a news organization facing competing loyalties. It would appear that NHK’s loyalty to the government is compromising its loyalties to the public and the organizations own vow to report the news truthfully an objectively. As a BBC-like public broadcaster, NHK may owe its existence to the Japanese government, but it will lose all credibility (and likely, relevance) if it becomes the PR outlet for the government.

 

Vocabulary: 

Social Contract: The idea, asserted by philosopher Thomas Hobbes, that loyalty is a social act that forms the basis of political society.

Loyalty: Journalists have competing obligations to various groups, including readers, the general public, sources, and the companies they work for. Theologian Josiah Royce defined loyalty as devotion to a cause, rather than to oneself or any one party.

-Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu

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2 thoughts on “Blog Essay Week 5

  1. Jovahn,

    Not only that, but if NHK continues to be the PR tongue of the government, then it won’t be upholding the democratic ideals of journalism. The obligation is to the people, not the government, which makes the case so fascinating because of NHK’s reliance on bureaucracy to exist. As the article points out, I immediately think of the BBC and France’s wire service. I doesn’t seem like a good idea to go cold turkey on government-subsidized outlets. NPR does fabulous work. We need to responsibly balance our reliance on our creditors with our loyalties to the audience.

    DQ: Yes, here is an example I thought up. The government releases a virus that impacts the health of several citizens. Officials do not divulge the extent of the damage, most notably, that human-to-human contact passes the virus on. Therefore, no one thinks much is wrong, and the situation is underreported. The press catches wind of this, but realizes it is also not immune to this virus. The reporters’ obligation is to truth, but in this situation, they do not want to cause a mass riot. What is to be done? I think reporter should always speak the truth. Even if that tarnishes loyalty to the reader, the reader needs to understand the crucial role journalists play in disseminating information that isn’t always available. No one else in the world does that, so reporters should never feel hesitant about being the ones to do so.

    Zack Peterson
    peterson.zack.ib@gmail.com

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